Deception, an Abuse of Wisdom

That Old Serpent
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And the great dragon was cast out, that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan, which deceiveth the whole world.—Revelation 12:9

Ernest Kuenzli

Perhaps the most familiar illustration of the Adversary is that of the old serpent, the great deceiver. This association comes from the Garden of Eden where Satan used a serpent to deceive Eve into eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:1-6). The apostle Paul confirmed this deception when he wrote, “Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning” (2 Corinthians 11:3, NIV, cf., 1 Timothy 2:14).

Satan was not created as a liar and deceiver. Before he sinned, Satan is described in the Scriptures as Lucifer, a creature who was perfect, full of wisdom and beauty, and son of the morning (Isaiah 14:12). Here is how Ezekiel describes his beauty: “This is what the Sovereign LORD says: You were the model of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty. You were in Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone adorned you: ruby, topaz and emerald, chrysolite, onyx and jasper, sapphire, turquoise and beryl. Your settings and mountings were made of gold; on the day you were created they were prepared. You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you.” (Ezekiel 28:12-15, NIV).

Lucifer’s external beauty did not develop into the far more important beauty of heart and character. Instead his heart was lifted up and he became proud. Ezekiel wrote, “Thine heart was lifted up because of thy beauty, thou hast corrupted thy wisdom by reason of thy brightness” (Ezekiel 28:17).

Lucifer’s pride corrupted his wisdom. No longer was he satisfied with his position in the divine arrangement. Pride led to ambition and a desire for rule over more of God’s creation, becoming like God in power and control, rather than in heart and in character. Isaiah states, “You said in your heart, I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne above the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High” (Isaiah 14:13,14, NIV). Satan desired to raise his throne above the other angels making himself like God.

This teaches that pride corrupts the perfect wisdom that comes from God. Even Lucifer, who had direct knowledge of and communion with God, lost whatever wisdom he initially had through pride. He foolishly rebelled against the superior wisdom and power of God and will ultimately lose all he ever possessed including life itself. The corrupting influence of pride is so strong that the proud in heart are an abomination to the LORD, and God hates a proud look (Proverbs 6:16,17; 8:13; 16:5). Let us diligently guard our hearts so pride does not corrupt the wisdom we have received from our heavenly Father (James 3:17).

The Scriptures do not tell us how long Lucifer nurtured pride in his heart or planned his rebellion against God. However, any rebellion would have failed if Lucifer had tried it directly with the angels. The angels had direct communion and fellowship with God. They recognized God’s superiority and power and would not accept Lucifer as their ruler. Lucifer’s ambition and rebellion had to find another avenue of expression.

Satan’s Original Lie

The creation of man opened a convenient avenue of rebellion. Here was a creation on a different plane of existence than the heavenly. These could not directly see their Creator and they had limited information about his powers, his character, and his glory. They were vulnerable to being misled by Lucifer. Perhaps he thought he could expand his realm by capturing this race and making them his servants. Meanwhile, God appointed Lucifer as the “guardian cherub,” placing him in Eden and giving him direct access to our first parents. With his ability to read Lucifer’s heart, God placed him in the ideal location where he could act out his rebellion.

Satan took advantage of the situation and used a serpent, a beast familiar to Adam and Eve, to perform his deception. Cleverly, Satan’s first question asked if there were any forbidden trees in the garden (Genesis 3:1). As the “guardian cherub” he knew the answer to that question. Still, he used this approach to gain Eve’s confidence and trust to make his deception work. Satan uses the same methods on the human family. He tries to appear as a friend to establish confidence before telling a lie he wants his victim to believe.

After hearing Eve’s response, Satan uttered the great lie: “You will not surely die … For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:4,5, NIV). In deceiving Eve, Satan accused God of holding mankind back from knowledge and privileges that should have been theirs. He not only lied about the penalty, he misrepresented God’s character as well.

Satan abused both his superior knowledge as a spirit being and his position as the “guardian cherub” to deceive and, ultimately, murder our first parents. He did it for purely selfish reasons: to gain dominion over the human family. Satan knew that the penalty of disobedience was death. He had spent billions of years in God’s presence and he knew the heavenly Father kept his word. He knew what death was because he observed it during the creative process. But he was unconcerned about the impact of his deception on mankind who were merely pawns in his rebellion against God. This is why our Lord called Satan “a murderer from the beginning” (John 8:44).

Satan’s suggestion appealed to Eve’s pride and her desire for more information, more stature, more freedom. It stimulated her selfishness, her lust, and her pride: “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6, NIV).

Ever since, Satan continues to practice this same type of deception against mankind. The apostle John wrote: “For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world” (1 John 2:16). These qualities in the world are a result of Satan’s influence. He uses his deceptions to appeal to the cravings of the earthly nature, the cravings of the eyes and the show and pride of life, and thus deceive mankind into doing his bidding (see 1 John 2:16, Weymouth).

Satan’s lie to mother Eve was the first deception in God’s creation. Jesus explains: “He was a murderer from the beginning, and abode not in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he speaketh a lie, he speaketh of his own: for he is a liar, and the father of it” (John 8:44).

Lucifer was once full of wisdom. But as Satan, he became the father of lies. Deception was created by him and he continues to practice it on the human family to maintain his dominion and his existence. The great lie “ye shall not surely die” continues to be repeated over and over again, in many different forms. The concept of “immortal soul” found in both the Catholic and many Protestant faiths, the Hindu idea of continuous reincarnation, and the concept of praying to the spirits of one’s ancestors are all based on that lie. Satan continues to propagate that lie to great effect.

The apostle Paul wrote: “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4, NIV). Satan has used his original lie to keep the human family blinded and in darkness concerning God’s wonderful character, his plan of salvation, and the opportunity to follow in the footsteps of Christ. Due to Satan’s deceptions, “darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples” (Isaiah 60:2, NIV).

His Attempted Deception of Jesus

Satan abused heavenly wisdom when he tried his deceptions against Jesus during Jesus’ first advent. In the second temptation in the wilderness, Satan quoted Psalm 91:11,12 about an angel’s protection of our Lord and challenged him to demonstrate this protection by hurling himself off a pinnacle of the temple. Our Lord wisely responded with, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God” (Matthew 4:6,7; Deuteronomy 6:16).

Satan tried other deceptions during our Lord’s earthly ministry. He used Peter to rebuke our Lord for going “unto Jerusalem, and suffer many things of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised again the third day” (Matthew 16:21,22). Jesus recognized that Satan had deceived Peter into opposing God’s will, so he said to Peter, “Get thee behind me, Satan: … for thou savourest not the things that be of God” (Matthew 16:23).

The deceptions continued even when Jesus was on the cross. Satan used the chief priests, scribes, and elders to tempt our Lord. They said, “If he be the King of Israel, let him now come down from the cross, and we will believe him” (Matthew 27:42). Of course, the chief priests, scribes and elders would not have accepted Jesus even if he had done just that. They had rejected Jesus as the Messiah even though he raised someone from the dead (Luke 16:31). This was just another temptation to deter Jesus from finishing his sacrifice as a ransom for all.

Satan abuses heavenly wisdom to use these same deceptions against us. He will misquote or misapply Scripture to derail us from the narrow way. He will use family and brethren in an attempt to mislead us. He will use anyone convenient to deceive us into abandoning our covenant of sacrifice unto death (Romans 6:3-5). We must put on the whole armor of God so we can stand against the wiles of the old serpent, the devil (Ephesians 6:11).

A Flood of Deceptions

In ancient times, Satan abused heavenly wisdom to mislead people into idolatry, which included the worship of gods of gold and silver, and human sacrifice. During the Christian dispensation, Satan has abused heavenly wisdom by mixing just enough error with God’s truth to confuse and mislead those seeking after God. His deceptions include the doctrine of the Trinity, a burning hell to punish sinners, the Pope as the vicar of Christ on earth, and the Papacy as Christ’s kingdom on earth. His deceptions have turned man’s concept of God from a loving heavenly Father into a vengeful God that delights in tormenting sinners forever in the flames of hell. As the apostle Paul wrote, “Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants masquerade as servants of righteousness” (2 Corinthians 11:14,15, NIV).

This flood of error initiated by Satan is described in Revelation: “When the dragon saw that he had been hurled to the earth, he pursued the woman who had given birth to the male child. The woman was given the two wings of a great eagle, so that she might fly to the place prepared for her in the desert, where she would be taken care of for a time, times and half a time, out of the serpent’s reach. Then from his mouth the serpent spewed water like a river, to overtake the woman and sweep her away with the torrent. But the earth helped the woman by opening its mouth and swallowing the river that the dragon had spewed out of his mouth.” (Revelation 12:13-16, NIV).

The dragon is identified as “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray” (Revelation 12:9, NIV). When the church went into the wilderness condition during the 1,260 “days” (each day representing a literal year—see Numbers 14:34; Ezekiel 4:6) of Papal supremacy, Satan as the serpent or great deceiver spewed false doctrines like a river to sweep the church away with a flood of error. Instead the earth or human society swallowed the errors and the true church was preserved.

The Man of Sin, Tares, and Babylon

Satan used error mixed with heavenly truth to raise up that great apostasy, the Papacy, to deceive mankind about God and his plan of salvation. This false system is described as “that man of sin … who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God” (2 Thessalonians 2:3,4). Paul continued: “The coming of the lawless one will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing” (verses 9,10, NIV). Satan’s lie that the Papal system is the true church was key to its rise to power and the influence it holds over mankind.

Satan’s deception is also pictured in the parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30). The tares or false Christians were sowed by the Devil (verses 38 and 39). Through deception and by encouraging their pride, Satan motivated church leaders to seek power and prestige by incorporating heathen theology into their teachings and enticing the world to join church ranks to enlarge the counterfeit church. As a result, “tares” greatly outnumber the “wheat,” and the wheat could not be distinguished until our Lord’s return when the harvest of the Gospel age began. The call to “come out of her my people” led to a separation of wheat and tares, dividing the true church from the false church created by Satan’s deceptions (Revelation 18:4).

Babylon [confusion] is another name for the false church (Revelation 17:5). Satan has used her to make the nations drunk with the doctrines of her adulteries, thus blinding or confusing the entire world to God’s truth: “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great! She has become a home for demons and a haunt for every evil spirit, a haunt for every unclean and detestable bird. For all the nations have drunk the maddening wine of her adulteries” (Revelation 18:2,3, NIV).

The true followers of Christ are not immune to the deceptions of the old serpent. Paul wrote: “I fear, lest by any means, as the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtilty, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:3). We see the reality of Paul’s concern when we look at what happened to the church after the apostles died. Through Satan’s deceptions and leadership, after Paul’s death, “grievous wolves [shall] enter in among you, not sparing the flock. Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them” (Acts 20:29,30).

A similar falling away occurred after the death of Pastor Russell in 1916. Satan stirred up individuals to gain control and introduce error into the doctrines being taught to the brethren. As a result, many lost an understanding of major portions of the truth including the ransom, Israel’s role in the plan of God, the door to the high calling, and a full appreciation of the scope of Christ’s kingdom.

Satan has continued to abuse heavenly wisdom by the deceptions in our day. He has raised questions about our Lord’s second presence. He has stirred up strife among brethren over prophetic interpretation and chronology. All must be vigilant to use the helmet of salvation and the sword of the spirit as protection against the deceptions of that old serpent (Ephesians 6:17).

God promises that Satan’s 6,000 years of deception are about to come to an end. Our Lord has returned to seize the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bind him for a thousand years, throwing him into the abyss, to keep him from deceiving the nations until the thousand years are ended (Revelation 20:2,3, NIV). The binding of Satan will give the human family their first deception-free experience. Then in Christ’s kingdom mankind will hear a “pure language, that they may all call upon the name of the LORD, to serve him with one consent” (Zephaniah 3:9). With Satan bound, the pure language of God will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea (Isaiah 11:9). “No longer will a man teach his neighbor, or a man his brother, saying, Know the LORD, because they will all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD” (Jeremiah 31:34, NIV). God will pour his spirit upon all flesh so they will understand his truth, walk in his statutes, and keep his judgments (Joel 2:28, Ezekiel 36:25-27). When Satan is released during the little season, it is probable that few will be deceived because most hearts will have been shaped by God’s holy spirit and the pure message of truth into a character image of him.

One of the keys to avoiding the deceptions of the Adversary is to have our hearts filled with God’s holy spirit: “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God” (1 Corinthians 2:12). God’s spirit will enable us to discern what is truth and what is a deception.

God has promised that the deceptions of that old serpent will be brought to a permanent end with Satan’s destruction: “In that day the LORD with his sore and great and strong sword shall punish leviathan the piercing serpent, even leviathan that crooked serpent; and he shall slay the dragon that is in the sea” (Isaiah 27:1). The story of Satan’s rebellion and his resulting destruction will teach mankind forever the danger of pride, ambition, and disobedience.

God will crush that old serpent, the devil, under the feet of the Christ (Romans 16:20). That will bring deceptions, lies, half-truths and every other type of misconception to an end throughout God’s entire creation. Thereafter, only truth and heavenly wisdom will exist on every plane of existence. How we praise our heavenly Father and look forward to the fulfillment of that promise.